Football Club Record Goalscorers

Jimmy Greaves (left)
Jimmy Greaves (left) scored 357 goals in 517 games at a rate of 0.69/game - By Jac. de Nijs / Anefo (Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo) [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl], via Wikimedia Commons

Football has been being played in roughly its current format since about 1863. During that time we’ve witnessed some brilliant goalkeepers take to the field, seen some powerhouse midfielders control games on the biggest stage of all and watched in awe as defenders crunch into last-ditch tackles to stop the opposition from scoring. Yet we remain as obsessed as ever with knowing who scored the most goals for a club.

Football is a team game but there’s no question that it’s the goal scorers who get the most glory. If football were a film then strikers would be the good-looking lead character who is impossibly nice and everyone loves no matter what. Here we are having a look at some of the top-scorers from English clubs since the game began. Plenty of the names you’ll recognise but maybe there will be a surprise or two in the list.

Top 25 Club Record Goalscorers (Worldwide)

Team Player No of Goals
Bayern Munich Gerd Müller 573
Yeovil Town Johnny Hayward 548
Sporting Club de Portugal Fernando Peyroteo 543
Celtic Jimmy McGrory 522
Barcelona Lionel Messi 499
Galatasaray Metin Oktay 497
Olympiacos Giorgos Sideris 493
Benfica Eusébio 473
Fenerbahçe Zeki Rıza Sporel 470
Wycombe Wanderers Tony Horseman 416
Barnet Arthur Morris 403
Slavia Prague Josef "Pepi" Bican 395
Everton Dixie Dean 383
Rangers Jimmy Smith 381
Athletico Bilbao Telmo Zarra 367
Real Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo 359
FC Porto Fernando Gomes 352
Bristol City John Atyeo 351
Liverpool Ian Rush 346
Middlesbrough George Camsell 345
OGC Nice Joaquín Valle 339
R.S.C. Anderlecht Joseph Mermans 338
Derby County Steve Bloomer 332
West Ham United Vic Watson 326
Wolverhampton Wanderers Steve Bull 306

Record Goalscorers Broken Down By League

The Top Ten Goal Scorers In England’s Top Division

Whether it be the Premier League or back before Sky invented football and is what known as the First Division, goals have won games. Players have won trophies because they’ve either been a goalscorer or been in a team with one. Here are the top ten players who have scored the most goals in England’s top-flight:

Number Ten: Joe Smith

Remember in the intro when we said there might be a surprise or two to be found here? Well how about Joe Smith, an Englishman who made his name when he played for Bolton Wanderers? He scored 243 goals in 410 top-flight matches, actually netting 277 goals for Bolton if you include cup games.

Number Nine: Hughie Gallacher

Hughie Gallagher might not be a household name, but he scored three goals more than Joe Smith in fifteen less matches. 246 goals in top division in England in 355 games is no mean feat, especially if you see a photo of him and realise how big the shorts were that he was wearing when he did it. Having made his name in Scotland he proved his worth at both Newcastle United and Chelsea when he moved South of the border.

Number Eight: Joe Bradford

In the wake of the First World War plenty of people needed life to return to normal and football was the release that they needed. Before the Second World War caused more pain and misery Joe Bradford scored 248 goals in 410 top-flight games. He was the leading goalscorer for Birmingham City every year apart from one between 1921 and 1933. If you include cup games in that then he was actually the top scorer in all twelve seasons, so we’re really just being picky.

Number Seven: Nat Lofthouse

The first really recognisable name in the list, Nat Lofthouse is another player who scored hundreds of goals for Bolton Wanderers. Between him and Joe Smith it’s a wonder they haven’t won more than four FA Cups and two League Cups over the years. He scored at a rate of 0.56 goals per game, putting the ball into the back of the net 255 times in 452 appearances. His ratio was no worse for England, scoring 30 goals in 33 games for the Three Lions.

Number Six: Charlie Buchan

Back to one of the lesser known names in the game, Charlie Buchan’s playing career started and ended at Arsenal. In the middle section he played for Sunderland and remains the Black Cat’s top-scorer of all-time to this day. 257 goals in the top-flight over a period of 482 games included being Sunderland’s top-scorer in seven out of nine seasons during his time in the North-East. The Gunners had been called Woolwich Arsenal when he left but by the time he returned they’d dropped the ‘Woolwich’. He dropped nothing, scoring 49 goals in 102 games for them.

Number Five: Alan Shearer

Remarkably the only player to feature in the top ten from the Premier League era, Alan Shearer made his name at Southampton before moving to Blackburn Rovers and winning the title under Kenny Dalglish’s management in 1995. During his career at the pinnacle of English football he scored 283 goals in 559 Premier League games, setting a record for the modern-day league that is yet to be surpassed. The Geordie lad might have made his name elsewhere but he ended his career at Newcastle, scoring 148 goals in 303 games for the Magpies.

Number Four: Gordon Hodgson

If you were asked to name Liverpool’s top-scorers you would no doubt mention the likes of Kevin Keegan, Ian Rush and the aforementioned Kenny Dalgish. Gordon Hodgson isn’t one of the Reds’ best-known talents outside of the city, yet his tally of 287 league goals in 456 games means he deserves to be mentioned amongst the greats. As well as netting a bagful for the Reds he also holds the club record of seventeen career hat-tricks. He had a mildly unsuccessful spell at Aston Villa and ended his career with Leeds United, scoring 51 times in 81 matches.

Number Three: Dixie Dean

From one part of Merseyside to the other. Whilst Hodgson was banging them in at Anfield Dixie Dean was breaking all sorts of records on the other side of Stanley Park, becoming Everton’s all-time top goal scorer. He scored at a rate of 0.86 goals per league game during his career, seeing his way to 310 goals in 362 games; a frankly preposterous scoring record. Famed for scoring with his head, Dean ended his footballing career at Hurst, the team now known as Ashton United. He only played two games for them but he still scored in one of them.

Number Two: Steve Bloomer

Derby County’s record goal scorer was born in Worcestershire in 1874, perhaps explaining why he’s arguably the least well-known name on this list. He joined Derby in 1891 and made 375 appearances for them in all competitions during his first spell at the club, scoring 238 goals. That went a long way towards his tally of 314 top-flight goals in 536 league games, with another load coming when he played for Middlesbrough. He returned to County in 1910 and scored another 53 goals in 98 games.

Number One: Jimmy Greaves

He might be better remembered by the younger amongst you as one part of “Saint & Greavsie”, but before he became a television star he was a genuinely prolific goal scorer. Though he had a brief sojourn to Italy when he played twelve times for AC Milan, scoring nine goals, he was a Southerner by birth and that’s where he enjoyed his best years. He scored 124 times for Chelsea in 157 appearances and netted 220 times for Spurs in 321 games. Overall in the top-flight he beat the ‘keeper 357 times in 516 matches, giving him a scoring ratio of 0.69 goals per game.

Scoring Then v Scoring Now

Alan Shearer
Alan Shearer banner at St James's Park, Newcastle - Bill Henderson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s notable that Alan Shearer is the only player from the modern era to feature in that list. The England number nine sits smack bang in the middle of all of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of the game in the country that invented it, but he’s alone in doing so relatively recently. That really begs the question: Was it easier to score in days of yore than it is in the modern day game?

A look at the Premier League’s all-time top-scorers would suggest that it was, with only Shearer netting more than 200 goals in the competition. The next closest player to the Geordie might well break that barrier before his career is over, though. At the time of writing Wayne Rooney has found the net 195 times in the top-flight for Everton and Manchester United and is the latter’s all-time top-scorer.

Other notable names include Frank Lampard, who scored 177 league goals for three different clubs, Thierry Henry, who netted just two goals less during his time at Arsenal, and Les Ferdinand, who played for six different Premier League teams and scored 149 goals. None of them came close to breaching the top ten list above, however.

So what is so different about the game today to back then? Age might be one of the decided factors. Jimmy Greaves began playing for Chelsea when he was seventeen, for example, scoring 124 league goals before he was 21. Theirry Henry, by comparison, was twenty-two before he’d even played his first game for Arsenal. It’s presumably no coincidence that Rooney was the same age as Greaves when he made his debut for the Toffees.

Thierry Henry style=
Thierry Henry - By Drew Dies [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The amount of games will likely also have played a factor. For players like Steve Bloomer and Joe Smith European football wasn’t an issue. Certainly for the former there was the league and FA Cup and that was pretty much it. The likes of Rooney and Lampard have had to contend with being used in all three domestic cup competitions as well as European fixtures, meaning they’re more susceptible to injuries and the like.

The final thing that will have allowed players in days gone by to score more readily than their modern-day counterparts is the use of substitutions. The ability to take players off in the middle of a game wasn’t a viable option in English football until the 1965-1966 season when one substitution could be made, though even then it was only permitted to remove a player who had picked up an injury. A tactical substitution wasn’t allowed until the 1967-1968 season.

Whereas modern players can be taken off by their manager if they are under-performing, only Jimmy Greaves from that entire list, excluding Alan Shearer, would have been at risk of being substituted during a game and even that was at the end of his career. The fact that clubs had less games to play combined with the fact that they couldn’t substitute players off led to smaller squad sizes and, therefore, more opportunities to score.

Other Records

JDixie Dean
Dixie Dean - See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Whilst it’s obviously crucial to know which players have scored the most top-flight goals, that isn’t the only noteworthy thing when it comes to goalscoring exploits. Here are some other interesting facts that you might want to know:

  • Most Goals Scored in a Single Season: 60 (Dixie Dean)
  • Most Seasons as League Top-Scorer: Six (Jimmy Greaves in 1958-1959, 1960-1961, 1962-1963, 1963-1964, 1964-1965 and 1968-1969
  • Club With Most Top-Scorers: Everton (12 times; 1893-1894, 1901-1902, 1906-1907, 1908-1909, 1914-1915, 1923-1924, 1927-1928, 1931-1932, 1937-1938, 1938-1939, 1977-1978 and 1985-1986
  • Most Common Top-Scorer Nationality: English (88 times)
  • Most Consecutive Top-Scorer Wins: 3 (Jimmy Greaves from 1963-1965; Alan Shearer from 1995-1997; Thierry Henry from 2004-2006)
  • Most Separate Clubs to be League Top-Scorer With: 3 (Gary Lineker at Leicester City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur)
  • Club With Most Top-Flight Goals: Everton (6776)
  • Most Top-Flight Goals In Non-British League: 377 (Albert De Cleyn for FC Malinois / KV Mechelen
  • Most Goals Scored Across Multiple Leagues: 518 (Josef Bican in Austria and Czechoslovakia
  • Most Goals In UEFA Club Competitions: 98* (Cristiano Ronaldo for Sporting CP, Manchester United and Real Madrid)

*This is correct at the time or writing, however as Cristiano Ronaldo is still playing it is likely to change before his retirement from the sport.